Bills promote school choice

Mar. 22, 2013 @ 05:56 PM

Legislation introduced in the General Assembly focusing on school choice has made its way to the state House and Senate, and is causing some controversy along the way.
One of the most controversial bills, HB 1104, would give corporations a tax credit for providing educational scholarships for students to go to private schools. The bill was returned to the finance committee last summer and has yet to be brought back up this session.
One of the bill’s primary sponsors is Rep. Marcus Brandon, D-Guilford, along with Reps. Paul Stam, R-Wake, William Brisson, D-Bladen, and Mike Hager, R-Rutherford.
“Vouchers incentivize families to abandon the public schools, leaving behind the most disadvantaged students for the public schools to educate. What’s touted as an instrument of opportunity actually becomes an instrument of socio-economic segregation,” said Karey Harwood with Public Schools First NC. “Public schools provide an excellent education for more than 90 percent of North Carolina’s children – nearly 1.5 million students. Our graduation rate is currently at an all-time high, and our dropout rate is at an all-time low.”
The tax credit given would be equal to the amount of the scholarship.
Another bill, Senate Bill 337, introduced this week by state Sens. Jerry Tillman, R-Randolph, and Dan Soucek, R-Watauga, would create the North Carolina Public Charter Schools Board.
Charter schools are independently operated but a part of the public school system. If a child from a public school moves to a charter school, the money follows the child. This can be a problem in the case that the public school the child moves from is already under-performing due to financial constraints, it now has less money to improve performance. The upside is that charter schools can try innovative ways to improve a child’s education. If HB 1104 were resurrected, it could exacerbate the financial issue.
“The rapid expansion of charter schools will be given an even bigger boost if Senate Bill 337 becomes law,” said Chris Hill with the North Carolina Justice Center.
Eddie Goodall, executive director of the NC Public Charter Schools Association, an advocacy organization for charters said that charter schools are seeing nearly half of their needs addressed.
“A stronger charter law enhances the probability of more and even better quality charters across the state,” he said.
In 2011 the cap on the number of charter schools was removed to allow more than 100 in the state and 23 charter schools were approved earlier this month including Summerfield Academy in Guilford County, NC Leadership Academy in Forsyth County and Uwharrie Charter Academy in Randolph County, all scheduled to open in this fall.
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